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Volume 2, Number 1, Oct 2001

The Emergence of
Campus Mediation Systems:
History in the Making (page 3 of 3)

ADR and University Legal Affairs

While coming somewhat later, there has also been an increase in mediation workshops and training for college and university legal counsel. Efforts in this area have been lead by the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA), which now has a separate Litigation and ADR Committee. NACUA sponsored two trainings during 1995-96 for university attorneys in non-litigious methods of resolving disputes. The trend of involving university counsel is also apparent from the growing number of workshops on mediation appearing at the various annual conferences on law and higher education (Cavenagh 1994; Zdziarski and Jackson 1994).

Mediation Becomes Almost a "Household Word"

It should be noted that all this ADR activity on campus was not occurring in isolation. Significant changes have been occurring in North America that have greatly increased public awareness of mediation, and lead to an increase in the availability of experienced conflict intervenors. In his article on campus conflict work and democratic values Geoffrey Wallace (Wallace 1993) summarizes some of these important indicators of societal acceptance of mediation generally. He writes,

Dispute systems in the United States have changed a great deal in recent years. Between 1977 and 1987, neighborhood dispute programs grew from approximately three neighborhood dispute centers to over three hundred centers. The Multi-Door court house system in Washington, DC handled 15,000 cases in 1985. In the areas of arbitration and mediation, there have been major increases in their use as evidenced by the revenue to those who provide these services. In 1992, the American Arbitration Association made 37 million dollars handling 60,000 cases; Endispute made 4.8 million dollars; Judicate made 4.0 million dollars; and, judicial mediation and arbitration made 25 million dollars. The increased use of mediation and arbitration remedies has been accompanied by an expanded array of conflict systems now available.

Increasing Visibility of Diversity Conflicts on Campus

Another important trend on campus has to do with increased attention to conflicts over race, ethnicity, and gender. During the late1980s, campuses began to more publicly grapple with an increasing range of disputes relating to diversity issues. In the Spring of 1988 PBS Television aired a FRONTLINE documentary entitled Racism 101 that explored the disturbing increase in racial incidents and violence on America's college campuses. The attitudes of black and white students revealed increasing tensions at some of the country's best universities. In 1990, a Carnegie Foundation Report by Earnest Boyer entitled Campus Life: In Search of Community aired concerns by administrators and faculty about the loss of community on campus. Research conducted for the report found that 68% of presidents of large research and doctoral institutions felt that race relations was a problem on their campus, with the average across all types of institutions being closer to 25%. Approximately 50% of chief student affairs officers at all the institutions surveyed felt that conflict resolution workshops were now “very important,” with an additional 35% saying they were somewhat important. A full 77% felt that developing better procedures for handling complaints and grievances was between somewhat and very important for their institutions. Sylvia Hurtado's research and subsequent Journal of Higher Education article entitled "The Campus Racial Climate: Contexts of Conflict" (Hurtado 1992) also captured the attention of many higher education administrators.

Karleen Karlson, director of the mediation project at SUNY Albany, was one of a number of authors who have argued that campus mediation projects increase in significance as campuses diversify (Karlson 1991). She states

As a campus' demographics change, the demand by new groups for a campus voice - and a piece of campus resources brings an accompanying amount of "muscle flexing" - self-assertion, testing other groups, challenging the administration - which causes tension in the college as the groups seek to establish themselves within the larger community. Campuses that wish to become more culturally diverse need to consider using the services of a mediation center.
By the early 1990’s presentations, articles, and special demonstration projects began to more carefully explore the use of mediation as one response to diversity disputes (Avery 1990; Hartzog 1995; Volpe and Witherspoon 1992; Wing 1994) Larger, systemwide initiatives to address diversity-related conflicts on campus also began to emerge across the country, in places such as New York, Michigan, California, and New Jersey. I was personally involved as a lead trainer in the New Jersey effort, wherein the Department of Higher Education for the State of New Jersey provided a $100,000 grant to Jersey City State College in 1989. The grant included a statewide student leadership initiative on race relations and conflict resolution that brought together students (minority and “majority”) and staff from all 54 New Jersey campuses for weekend workshop/retreats on diversity and conflict resolution skills training.

Concern over sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus also grew tremendously during the 1990s (Riggs and Murrell 1993). Mediation of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases became a controversial topic as experiments with the use mediation as a response increased in visibility and scope. (Cloke 1988; Gadlin and Paludi 1990; Sisson and Todd 1995; Weddle 1992).

Dispute Systems Design Initiatives

By the early 1990’s within the larger Conflict Management/ADR field there emerged an increasing awareness of the benefits of taking a systemic approach to organizational conflict management, spurred by the publication of Ury, Brett, and Goldberg’s volume Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict in 1988 and the special October 1989 issue of the Negotiation Journal on Dispute Systems Design. Interest in ADR systems design spread to campuses as well, with MIT Ombuds Mary Rowe at the forefront, writing about integrated campus dispute systems in her articles "People Who Feel Harassed Need a Complaint System With Both Formal and Informal Options" (Rowe 1990) and "The Ombudsman Role in a Dispute Resolution System." (Rowe 1991) appearing in Harvard's Negotiation Journal. A number of university systems, most notably the University of Georgia system and the City University of New York system, and the University of Missouri system, have taken on the challenging task of system-wide initiatives to improve dispute resolution practices across entire multi-campus university systems. These efforts should bear considerable fruit in the years to come.

The Maturation of the Higher Ed ADR Field

In addition to these larger scale organizing efforts, we are now seeing a variety of smaller signs suggesting the general maturation of the field. These include increased use of internet discussion groups and websites as networking tools among campus dispute resolvers, and regional meetings of campus mediation programs to supplement annual national gatherings. There is increasing availability of college and university conflict resolution trainings targeted toward for staff and faculty, and a growing emphasis on preparing campus mediators to handle more complex conflicts involving issues of culture, race and gender. Special summer institutes and seminars on campus conflict resolution are now being offered to national and international groups of participants. Campus programs are also now moving beyond interpersonal disputes and are beginning to intervene in more complex and larger group conflicts involving a wider range of campus constituencies.

We are also seeing the continued spread of mediation techniques to previously undeveloped areas such as community colleges. Also significant is the move to take conflict resolution services off-campus, as programs focus on forging new links with off-campus constituencies. There appears to be a gradual move toward institutionalization of mediation as a preferred mode of dispute resolution on campus, signified by the gradual development of campus grievance policies that write mediation into their basic procedures. In addition, discussions are now underway about the development of national standards of practice for campus mediators.
Clearly, campus mediation and alternative dispute resolution practices have come a long way since the early ombuds programs came on the scene in 1967 as a “new bird on campus”. Having a mediation program is now being seen as good business practice on campus. Evidence of this is provided by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), who gave $10,000 in award money to a campus conflict resolution project (University of Texas, San Antonio) as part of their annual Higher Education Awards Program recognizing initiatives that improve the quality and reduce the cost of higher education programs and services.

As this article reveals, the past 3 decades have shown steady growth and change in higher education’s approaches to conflict. As mediation appears to be entering the campus mainstream, we can look hopefully forward at what the next decade. In terms of networking and access to information on building programs, the new Education Section of the Association for Conflict Resolution, and the FIPSE-funded national Campus Conflict Resolution Resources initiative ( hold out great promise for the future. Higher education, “conflict prone” as it may be, may also be a domain that truly learns from conflict and gains strength as a result. Only time will tell.


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